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Recently Pokerati Dan posted the following on Twitter:

@Pokerati: the (temporary) lack of inspiration and passion in poker media’s coverage of late (guilty) makes me giggle.

His Tweet struck me because I have long been on the verge of writing something about my disappointment every year with the WSOP coverage.

Once a year every poker website and/or blog sends an army of journalists to Las Vegas to cover the biggest event in poker. And every year the vast majority of reporting is mediocre at best.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m friends with a lot of these writers (or was before I wrote this post) and I really don’t blame them. I blame the way the system is set up. It’s a meat grinder that chews people up for six weeks and drains them of all their creative juices.

First off, the people footing the bill for all this want something in return. Writers are forced to crank out X number of articles a day to prove their worth whether or not there is anything meaningful to report or not. So sites that might have been posting 2 or 3 articles a day before the WSOP are suddenly cranking out 15 or more posts a day covering some $3000 buy-in event that nobody really cares about. I’m sure the guys going deep care but most of us don’t need several updates a day on an event especially when every other site out there is also posting multiple updates a day. A good dinner break and end of day summary is fine unless there’s actually something newsworthy.

If you really want to go hog wild then provide a feed of how people finish in the tournament but don’t make that part of the reporting. If you’ve got a friend who’s deep in a tournament and you want that info then watch the live updates feed. There’s no reason to try and write a story every 10 minutes and post it on your regular feed. It’s too much noise.

It’s sort of the 24 hour news network effect. You have to fill the space. So every rumor, every bathroom break, every inside joke is reported on as if it has the same journalistic weight as discovering that Mars has condo colonies and little green men walking around.

Even ESPN has caught on to this and has radically scaled down coverage of the smaller events to feature the invitational, the Ante Up For Africa charity event, and the Main Event. Viewers simply wanted to see more Main Event so ESPN is giving it to them.

Second, you take all these writers and you throw them into 12 – 14 hour day grinds for 6 weeks and by the time the Main Event rolls around most of them have exhausted any sort of creativity or inspiration they might have had. Sure they wrote eloquently about the $1500 Go Fish One Eyed Jacks Are Wild Event #3 but go read their Twits by the Main Event and most of them are moaning and groaning about how they wish it would all be over and they could go home.

Here’s a quote from my good friend and poker journalist F-Train:

The last few days of the Main Event all I could think was, “Three more days of this nonsense.” “Two more days til it’s over.” And it has literally taken me a week to feel some semblance of normal again.

Here’s a suggestion – I have no journalistic background other than this blog so it may be FOS, but bear with me – why not save your best tournament reporters for the big events and send the junior writers to cover all the smaller events? Or better yet, have your best writers direct a small group of junior people who spend all day sitting on the rails doing chip counts and such and they feed all of that information back to a senior writer who compiles it all up and puts together one or two really solid pieces every day?

Third, a lot of what passes as journalism is simply PR. Along with all the major news sites every poker room that sends players to the WSOP also sends down their team of bloggers who narrowly focus on how players from their site are doing in each event.

To be fair, they do a decent job of covering the entire event but there is a distinct focus on specific players who are either affiliated with the site and/or qualified via that site. That’s nice and all but after awhile it starts to read a bit like propaganda. The tournament coverage and the writing about how the site’s players are doing seem like they should be completely separate things. Mixing the two just cheapens the reporting.

And it’s not what they write it’s also what they don’t write. Big name players being sponsored by other poker rooms get downplayed compared to their players. In the end, it’s simply not reporting. It’s PR.

So now that we have a year to think about how next year’s WSOP will be covered I hope that any poker writers who are still my friends after this post will figure out a better way to report. Maybe they take my suggestion on how to distribute the workload or perhaps they create different feeds so people can tune into summaries rather than a constant stream of updates. Whatever it is there is room for improvement and it only benefits everyone if coverage becomes better suited for the readers.

Photo cred to eliazar

10 thoughts to “Better WSOP Coverage, Please!

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  • Bill Rini

    @Jen: I don’t think it has anything to do with the need to attract more money into the industry. There is tons of money being made by affiliates. I think you make some points that many affiliates would make though I don’t agree with the premise of the argument.

    @F-Train: Never late, amigo. But to be honest there was never such a thing as independent media. Even going back to the days when it was just the print mags covering the poker scene favorable coverage could always be had if one was willing to buy enough ad space in their mags.

    And as soon as online news sites started up they were compromised since they only had one model. They were always going to be beholden to the poker rooms which they reported on.

    But both F-Train and Jen: None of that really matters. I know there is going to be some bias in the reporting. I don’t find that half as troublesome as the lackluster quality caused by poor management of resources.

    Granted, the WSOP is a unique event in the sports world in that it lasts for so long but someone needs to sit down and figure out how to best deploy their available resources rather than simply asking people to churn out as much crap as they can for six weeks. Nobody is benefiting from this. The readers quit reading. The writers get burned out. And the news sites could probably make a lot more if they produced content in a format and with a frequency that people could digest.

  • F-Train

    I’m a little late to this post but you’ve succinctly enunciated exactly how I feel. And it’s only getting worse. As you know, the revenue model that the “independent” media sites were built on — affiliate marketing — has matured to the point that poker coverage is not nearly as cost-effective as it once was. This changed dynamic is requiring the media sites to get into bed in a more direct fashion with the online poker sites, which skews the coverage to more of the PR-type pieces that you’ve seen.

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  • Jen

    You pose some great questions, Bill. And your suggestions mimic the thoughts of many of us in the grind.

    Speaking for myself only, I long to be able to write more in-depth pieces and use some creativity to do so, but those pieces don’t pay – and usually aren’t even welcome on most sites except our own blogs. And it ends up coming down to earning enough money to make the trip worthwhile, which for most of us is done through churning out the mindless tournament reports, rewrites of press releases, and pimpage for online poker sites.

    You hit the problem right on its head, but until more money is available in this industry and there are people in charge who might have an idea of how to use it more wisely, not much is going to change. Thank you for your perspective; it serves as a reminder to those of us searching for more purpose in our words, as well as a kick in the ass to those making the decisions about what coverage you receive.

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  • Bill Rini

    Pauly,

    That’s why I make the point that you really can’t blame guys like you, Otis, Gene, etc. You have to do what people pay you to do. Same thing as when I worked for Party and Tilt. At the end of the day the guy signing the check calls the shots.

    And believe me, I feel for you guys. We hung out a bit at the 2006 WSOP and I saw how hard all you guys work. It’s grueling. That’s why I wrote this post. Maybe someone will read it and say “Hey, maybe he’s got a point there.”

    I think you’re dead on about the unprofessional and unqualified comment. Some people in the industry are simply in over their heads. But the problem is that there aren’t enough qualified people to go around so nobody says anything.

    Anyway, good to hear your thoughts on this as you’re probably one of most respected poker journalists out there.

    Bill

  • Pauly

    Bill, your last line of your comment is why I had to reduce the number of clients that I wrote for during the 2009 WSOP in addition to reducing the number of days/hours I worked. I skipped 20 days in the middle and missed out on a couple of key moments. I can’t gauge the difference in quality of my work, but on a physical and mental stand point, I’ve never felt better post-WSOP in five years of doing this crazy seven-week marathon every summer.

    Although I agree with mostly everything you have said in your post, the bottom line is this… it’s not easy to cover the WSOP any way you cut it. And sadly, the issues and problems you speak about stem from a larger systemic problem. The poker industry is riddled with unprofessional and unqualified people who are making many of these key decisions and shaping the protocol of the several facets of poker media. They have influence over where the money flows (a lot less these days) so until that changes we’re all monkeys with a grinder. Myself included.

  • Bill Rini

    @BB: No, I totally agree. I’ve hung out with Pauly, Otis, and the others during the WSOP. I don’t blame the authors/journalists. It’s the system. But I’m a target audience for this and not only do I not enjoy it, I actually unsubscribed from several RSS feeds because it was just so overwhelming. You can tell the difference between when someone has put their heart into a piece and when it’s been forced.

    So the sites that are commissioning the work need to understand that while content may be king, good content is god. And you can’t produce good content if you’re burned out. You can’t write 10 pieces of good content per day every day. You can’t work 14 hours (or more) every day for six weeks straight and get good content.

  • BadBlood

    Bill, you have very valid points, but after watching these guys and gals work the last day of the Main Event, it’s obvious they can’t simply write what they want to. They work so hard, and get paid a pittance really. Their employers want the posting frequency to be what it is and want them to promote their own players. It is most definitely PR.

    If they could make the same amount of money by following your recommendations listed above, I’m sure they would.

    I think Pauly’s really the only independent writer out there who can pretty much do what he wants with the coverage. He’s obviously earned that luxury, but it’s a difficult business to be in.

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